Last year, I wrote an essay on sound in contemporary Brazilian poetry that was published in Portuguese in Deslocamentos Críticos (Lisbon: Babel; São Paulo, Itaú Cultural, 2011). I am glad to share the English version of the essay here over the next several posts. My great thanks to Rumos Literatura do Itaú Cultural, the literary criticism program of Itaú Cultural, for their support of this research.
Brazilian Poetic Sound Work: 1980-2010
In the course of performing Um Ano Entre Os Humanos, poet Ricardo Aleixo (b. 1960) recites and sings.1 He plays guitar and bits of hardware. He dj’s from a laptop. Some of these sounds are scripted; others, improvised. All complement the visual aspects of the performance, which include video, a simple set of a chair and table holding just the laptop, a microphone, and percussion instruments, and Aleixo and his co-performer’s both choreographed and spontaneous movements. Sound contrasts, however, with the piece’s most striking visual symbol: the poemanto, a large black cloth emblazoned with white letters that Aleixo wraps himself in and animates for part of the performance, and that appears in a video that plays for part of the piece.
In December, I spent a vibrant night at the Cooperifa spoken word salon on the South Side periphery of São Paulo. The open-mic sessions take place every Wednesday at the bar of Zé Batidão, a neighborhood gathering spot in Jardim Guarujá, where up to 300 people of all ages converge weekly to listen to and perform poems. Over the last eleven years, Cooperifa (the name is a compound of cooperativa and periferia) has become well-known in São Paulo and throughout Brazil for uniting and strengthening, through poetry, a community that is marginalized in both social and geographic senses. Sérgio Vaz, a poet and founder of Cooperifa, is widely recognized as a community leader; in 2009, Época magazine named him one of the hundred most influential people in Brazil. Indeed, Cooperifa spoken word is something of a popular movement that has spread beyond São Paulo.
It may be that only cannibalism unites us, as Oswald insisted, socially, economically, philosophically. (“Só a antropofogia nos une. Socialmente. Economicamente. Philosophicamente.”) But what about geographically? It's winter in earnest up north (so I hear, some places) while in Rio we're readying for Carnaval at the height of summer. Listening to Lenine's “A Ponte/Embolada” (from his 1997 album O Dia Em Que Faremos Contato), I got to thinking about hemispheric exchange.
Dear Readers, by a happy coincidence, today (January 11) is the inaugural post of Brazilian poetry and poetics, and the birthday of Oswald de Andrade, one of the founding poets of Brazilian modernism. "Tupi, or not Tupi that is the question," Oswald famously asked (in English) in the Manifesto Antropófago (Cannibal Manifesto, 1928), which adopted cannibalism (and the figure of the indigenous Brazilian cannibal) as a metaphor for a new Brazilian art that would devour and assimiliate European culture and the European vanguards along with local nature and culture to produce a native national art free of its colonial past. Oswald's writing has touched every Brazilian poetic vanguard since.